Interview : Robert Cavuoto
Live Photos © Robert Cavuoto
Feature Image © Paulo Nuno Gonçalves
Guitar virtuoso, Joe Satriani, will soon be releasing his documentary, Beyond the Supernova. The film highlights the 30 years since the release of his multi-platinum selling album, Surfing with the Alien, and showcases live performances from the Surfing to Shockwave World Tour. It was filmed, edited, directed, and produced by his son, ZZ Satriani, as they toured through Asia and Europe in 2016 and 2017.
In the film, we learn of Joe’s autobiographical concept behind Shockwave Supernova and how it plays into determining his next creative step. It also offers some tremendous live performances from Joe, Mike Keneally [keyboard/guitar], Bryan Beller [bass] and Marco Minnemann [drums], as well as cameo appearances by guitarists Steve Vai and Guthrie Govan. The film will be released via Stingray Qello.
I had the pleasure of speaking to both Joe and ZZ about the making of this documentary and how the two worked together to get the best results.
Robert Cavuoto: Kudos on the documentary as I enjoyed it. I feel it will not only appeal to fans of Joe Satriani but fans of filmmaking. Prior to the 2016 & 2017 tour, did you both discuss making a documentary or was it something that was more organic and thought of after watching tour footage?
Joe Satriani: It was completely organic. I initially invited ZZ to come out on tour to shoot some B-roll footage for a possible concert DVD but quickly found that he was capturing something much bigger and more compelling. In the end and across three continents he found the “real” story.
ZZ Satriani: In 2012, before I knew much about documentary filmmaking, I made these short behind the scenes web edits during the European G3 tour. They had a strange feel to them because they were about nothing, just random shots stitched together, but there was something cool about them. For the 2016 tour, Joe and I decided to do something with a similar disorienting vibe, figuring it would go straight to the web. We didn’t think we could build something bigger based on that style and approach. When I started stringing scenes together in 2017, we realized there was space for a bigger narrative. So it was absolutely an organic process. The project kept evolving until the very end.
Robert Cavuoto: How much footage did you record during the tours?
ZZ Satriani: Hours! For the first tour, I essentially filmed every song of every concert because I was uncertain what we were going to use at that point, not to mention a ton of nature and cityscape B-Roll. For the 2017 tour, I knew I had to switch my focus to bandmate interaction and the more personal moments so I wouldn’t have to build a story around just guitar solos. If you took a look at all the footage, you would see a funny trajectory of what I considered important and central to the project.
Robert Cavuoto: Was it challenging to edit all those hours down to 60 minutes?
ZZ Satriani: So much footage ended up going straight into the trash can. There were several scenes that I really wanted to squeeze in, but they just wouldn’t harmonize with everything else. Aside from that, like I said, there were hours of footage that I knew didn’t make any sense to throw into the project, which ended up making my life very easy! Then again I don’t think we were ever going for “making sense,” we preferred the chaos.
Robert Cavuoto: Will there be any other offerings or bonus materials included on the DVD when the documentary is released?
Joe Satriani: We are just starting to put together a special edition box set for Beyond the Supernova. There will be lots of goodies that we are hoping to include along with the DVD.
Robert Cavuoto: Was it difficult being filmed at all times?
Joe Satriani: ZZ made it fun and natural for me as well as the other guys in the band. He brought his good social skills into play while filming. He always put us at ease and was in the right place at the right time. He was a total pro while being one of the guys at the same time.
Robert Cavuoto: Let me turn that question around for ZZ; what was it like filming your father constantly and how willing of a subject was he?
ZZ Satriani: I’ve grown very used to filming my father on the road, and he doesn’t seem to ever mind the camera. Our dynamic helped to keep the filming environment a relaxed one. As long as we were having fun doing it and being lighthearted, we knew the outcome would be enjoyable to watch. No drama! There are already enough of those documentaries out there.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any times that your father didn’t want you to film him?
ZZ Satriani: There may have been! But he always trusted me and never said no to a shot or scene. Plus I know better than to try and sabotage my own father.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think we will see a “Joe Satriani” reality show anytime soon?
Joe Satriani: [Laughing] I hope not. I’m much too private of a person for that!
Robert Cavuoto: If I recall correctly, you don’t like watching videos of yourself performing. How was it watching yourself on this documentary?
Joe Satriani: I was cringing all the time. It’s some kind of psychological torture to watch myself on film. Perhaps if I knew how to act, I could stand it but until then… [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: You said something very profound at the beginning of the documentary that you need “1% of wrong to make it right.”When you are writing and expending extreme efforts to seek the ultimate expression in a song. How do you know when you hit that 1%?
Joe Satriani: You hope you can feel it viscerally and spiritually. You summon up all your musicianship too and try to use everything you have at hand to make the right decisions. Maybe you’re never 100% sure but you’ve got to give it all you have.
Robert Cavuoto: A funny moment came in the documentary where you lost your way in a song, considering the ambitious arraignments of your songs, is there ever a concern about losing your place when you have to perform live?
Joe Satriani: We all have funny moments now and then where we “space-out” for a second and have to quickly reset and jump back in with the band. It’s usually the fatigue of touring that will bring on one of those comical episodes. We look after each other onstage, and cover for each other musically when one of us has a “moment.” Then we all have a good laugh about it after the show!
Robert Cavuoto: ZZ tells me about the importance of using all the great imagery throughout the documentary to help convey those moods and undertones of the story.
ZZ Satriani: Being on tour and traveling every day is similar to using one of those View-Master toys, that stereoscopic slideshow device we all had as a kid. You end up taking in so much information on a day to day basis when you’re constantly moving, so whenever you get a moment to tune out totally, it feels great. You end up with a string of beautiful fleeting moments, and the time in-between feels nonexistent. I wanted to replicate not only that feeling but also how someone might recall that entire experience after having done it so many times. The whole documentary is just a memory of the road, but a confused one that Joe is trying to make sense of. As for all the odd sci-fi and horror elements, that just an interest that runs in our blood, it had to go in there!
Robert Cavuoto: Is there a difference between how countries react to your shows and to your playing?
Joe Satriani: Every show is a different adventure. It’s a new opportunity to reach out to the audience and create something special. You really can’t generalize audiences. You go out there and do your best, every single time you perform.
Robert Cavuoto: After this past G3 Tour, you posted a photo of how your left middle finger had cracked terribly due to the cold weather yet you still had to perform night after night. When I saw you in New Jersey you were flawless, how were you able to get through all the shows?
Joe Satriani: Oh man, that was so very, very painful! It was definitely the worst guitar playing injury I’ve ever had to deal with while on tour. It was two months of playing with a ripped open, bloody finger right from the start of my set every night. I got through it by focusing on how thrilling it was to play with my band, John Petrucci, and Phil Collen. All finger issues aside it was an absolute joy of a tour, truly thrilling on all levels.
Robert Cavuoto: Can you give us an update on a Chickenfoot reunion?
Joe Satriani: Unfortunately I don’t think there is an update to give. I’ll ask Sammy Hagar again when I play with him on October 6th at his Huntington Beach Bash. Wish me luck!